Vandal breaks into Alexandria Theater; blight continues to mount

The smashed front door of the Alexandria Theater on Tuesday morning. Photo by David H.

Cub reporter David H. noticed one of the front doors was bashed in on the Alexandria Theater on Tuesday morning. Police were called to the building but did not find anyone inside. Building management later boarded over the damaged door and reinforced all the front doors against further break-ins.

This is the latest vandalism done to the former movie theater, which has become a magnet for graffiti and dumping. To date, the city has been very lax in enforcing the building owners to keep the building and grounds in good shape.

Ten weeks ago, on February 18, 2014, we filed a 311 request for “le poop” graffiti that was seen atop the theater (request #3380340). That case was only opened (assigned) nine days ago. Since it was first filed, the graffiti on the roof has increased to include additional designs on the Geary side and on the theater’s tower.

Down on ground level, the situation is equally unappealing. Trash is often dumped at the base of the large wall on the 18th Avenue side of the building, and it’s a magnet for graffiti taggers.

And even when the property managers do make an effort to paint over graffiti, they use off color paint or an entirely different color altogether like orange.

Damage to the 91 year old building is not only limited to the exterior. In late February, we posted some pictures of vandalism to the interior art deco murals, which are considered historic.

While police searched the building on Tuesday and contractors worked on the repair, cub reporter David H. was on scene and reported that the interior has been cleaned of the debris left by winter break-ins and is reasonably clean. But he also remarked, “You do not want to catch any of the smell coming out of that place.”

We recently marked the 10th anniversary of the closing of the Alexandria Theater. Over that decade, the building has deteriorated significantly and the owners have been unsuccessful in developing or selling the property.

Let’s hope the city can pressure the owners to make some improvements to building security and the grounds.

Sarah B.

The top photo shows the building’s graffiti near the roof from a 311 report on Feburary 18, 2014.
The bottom photo was taken on April 29, 2014, showing additional graffiti.

The front entry to the theater showing peeling paint, trash and broken glass.

The 18th Avenue side of the building.


  1. Sadly the building is only blighted because The City hasn’t required the owners to keep the exterior in good shape. It needs to be painted and the entrance restored, which is what’s going to be done no matter what happens to the interior.

  2. In the Mission a developer wanted to build an apartment building in the neighborhood next to the abandoned and deteriorating New Mission theater. He worked with the local neighborhood community organizations to work out a deal that beneficial to all parties. The deal was in exchange for being allowed to build a large development next to the theater the developer would also a) purchase a second plot of land in the neighborhood where he would be build a considerable amount of affordable housing, more than what the city required be built for his project and b) he would renovate the New Mission theater AND bring in the highly successful Alamo Drafthouse from Texas to run the theater.

    I bring this up because the plan for the Alexandria to chop it up into retail, restaurant and theater always rubbed me the wrong way because the owners never seemed interested in finding someone to fill all these new spaces they planned to build. They simply had a “if we build it, they will come” attitude. Meanwhile, this Mission developer actually seeks out a proven successful tennant for his deteriorating theater in a deal meant to give back and improve the neighborhood. This is the kind of plan we need for the Alexandria.

    We need to hold the owners of this building accountable. I believe the kitchen sink store or whatever it is next to Kawaii Corner is run by the people who own the theater, the same logos on their signs appear on a business card i received from the owner. Next time you walk by the theater pop in and give them a piece of your mind.

  3. To all intents and purposes this building and property has now been abandoned. The so-called owner’s have failed to exercise their property rights. Therefore it is the City’s responsibility to acquire this building by eminent domain for the community’s benefit before it gets burned to the ground.

  4. Eric Mar his staff, Peter L (who’s surpsingsly mute over the Classic Car Picnic) are virtually useless. 6th & Balboa is a disgrace. All those empty stores. When Cinderella is closed, there’s no place to get coffee in that stretch of town.

    Way to go, not!

  5. Maybe if Eric Mar can put a parklet in front of it.

    Oh wait, the Alexandria doesn’t host meet and greets for him.

  6. It’s not an election year, so Mar is busy trying to stop Starbucks and Petco from setting up in the Richmond. I suspect the owner is waiting for a fire that will allow them to sell as a vacant site which can be developed entirely as apartments.

  7. We need a serious (non-corrupt) alternative to Eric Mar. I know he doesn’t have power over everything -as this is really a result of tough city zoning codes (which I’m glad we have) and absentee landlords, but he was not even present at the most recent SFBOS meetings I watched – and each dealt with important issues like the tech shuttles, and illegal in-law units. I have emailed his office before and did not receive a reply, ever. Not even an acknowledgment.

    Wasn’t the Alexandria project linked to a corrupt former city employee, who was taking bribes to greenlight projects?

    311 is another matter – it’s a good service for some things – calling in illegal dumping for example, which they usually take care of quickly, and reporting abandoned vehicles, but graffiti is another matter. Their operators are, somewhat surprisingly, very nice and they pick up quickly. But in submitting graffiti reports via the app – I submitted 10 reports one day, all of which were marked ‘completed/resolved’ and none of which were actually cleaned up. I opened a report to ask them to look into why this happened, and did not hear back after a month, so I opened another report to find out why that report (the one looking into the matter) hadn’t been addressed. I never heard back from that either, and tried emailing as well and talking to several people at the call center; they all assured me someone would contact me, and I never heard back. All of the graffiti is still there. It’s worse if it’s on a private building or mailbox, as they assign responsibility to the owner, who will do it on a laxer schedule, or sometimes not at all.

  8. @Bennett: Just reading what you did to TRY to get someone’s attention, and the wall of silence that followed–repeatedly–is infuriating, both as a long-time Richmond D resident and as a taxpayer. What the hell is wrong with our so-called representatives?

  9. Mar needs to go. The Alexandria Theater is symbolic of his ineptitude. We need real leadership that understands that the theater isn’t going to fix itself and it is a blight on the surrounding area. The supervisor has to Be willing to engage the private sector to invest in a good solution for the community. Mar is either inept or he fears that engaging the private sector is “selling out”.

  10. I don’t understand what the city is trying to do here. Obviously, the era of theaters is over. The Bridge closed– and I was at the very last screening– and I’m sorry it did. But it makes zero sense that we should insist on maintaining theaters that no one wants or needs. Yes, the New Mission is being revived as a theater-with-restaurant-service. Maybe that’s a workable model. There was a similar proposal for for the Alexandria– was it even approved?

    What gets me is this: at its heyday, the Alexandria attracted thousands of patrons every night. Today, movie theaters are passé. But if the owners were to propose an updated use which would today attract thousands of patrons every night, I have no doubt that the neighbors, and the commentators on this blog, would object to the noise and the traffic.

    So far, I’ve heard a lot of complaining. I haven’t heard a single workable idea of what this place should become. Sure, the owners should keep the facade of the abandoned building tidy– but that’s purely a stopgap. You need to address the source of the problem, which is that the building is not being put to productive use. Why isn’t it being put to productive use, when it’s clearly some of the most expensive real estate, per acre, in the nation? I suspect it’s because the city–acting on behalf of its citizens, some of whom are represented here–refuses to permit anything but an absurd, pointless use, i.e. a movie theater.

    You ask me, just do a Coliseum on it. Build a bunch of condos, with retail on the ground floor, and it’ll be functional and useful. Will it be a landmark which attracts people from far and wide? No. But it’s clear that the Richmond has no taste for landmarks which attract people from far and wide.

  11. Actually, just a bunch of condos would be good, and no retail. Why would there need to be retail – there are already multiple empty retail spaces?

  12. The ongoing neglect of the Alexandria Theater is one of the biggest concerns for Supervisor Mar; it is also one of the most challenging because it pits the rights of a group of property owners versus the power of the City to compel them do what they clearly do not want to do: properly maintain the theater. Our office has spent many, many hours over the past few years engaging with the owners of the property, potential tenants, potential alternative developers, the Mayor’s office and City enforcement agencies.

    According to Captain Silverman, there are two incidents that the police have reported over the past two years, the first in November of 2013 when squatters broke into theater and the broken window that was reported three days ago. There are also ongoing graffiti abatement issues. Per the conditions of their entitlement, they have a duty to maintain the property in a clean and secure condition. To this end we have urged the owners to provide security and clean up graffiti in a timely manner. They have responded by telling us that they have onsite security, cameras, and an alarm system. The fact of these break ins and the lack of alarms going off shows that they have not followed through on these commitments.

    They also claimed that they would deal with graffiti aggressively. To this end we offered to help them to get a mural painted on the side of the building as a graffiti prevention measure. They said that they would think about it but never explored the offer with us.

    They are also, as part of their entitlement, supposed to have a named community liaison that can be reached by neighbors and other residents to address any issues that may crop up. As with their other commitments, we have seen no evidence that they have complied.

    The property is currently on the market and so we have asked them if they would meet with community developers and potential anchor tenants, again, no adequate response.

    What we are left with is our ability to urge the City’s enforcement agencies to be vigilant and aggressive in their response to complaints, something that we have done and continue to do.

    We are aware that the Planning Association for the Richmond has requested that the Zoning Administrator for the City, Scott Sanchez, call for a hearing on whether the the owners of the site have violated the conditions of their entitlement. The Supervisor cannot take a position on this matter, as it could subsequently be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. However, you may contact Mr. Sanchez at scott.sanchez@sfgov.org to offer any information that may be helpful to him in reaching a decision.

    Finally, someone wondered why not just build a purely residential project on this site. The zoning for the site, which is Neighborhood Commercial, requires commercial uses on the ground floor. It does not require a theater. Our office would happily welcome any number of commercial uses but the Supervisor cannot dictate what a private developer can do with their property. As some have noted, our old, abandoned, single screen theaters, are a problem throughout San Francisco, not just at the Alexandria.

    Eric, and the rest of our office, has worked diligently to try to address this ongoing problem. We will continue to engage with the owners on a regular basis to get them to address our shared concerns.

  13. @Nick,

    This is not a delicate balancing act, as you state. Property owners are legally required to maintain their property so that it is safe, clean, and otherwise not blighted. These property owners are clearly not doing, yet are not being held accountable. The law is being broken and it must be enforced. It is shameful that for ten years these property owners have been allowed to behave illegally with little or no consequences. If a homeowner allowed his property to deteriorate this way, I’ll bet action would be taken so fast it would make your head spin. For some reason, these owners seem to be given a “pass,” and have been allowed to create an intolerable situation.

    Re. enforcement, couldn’t a detail be assigned to this location so that a car rode by every 1/2 hour or so? That might help. Another option is requiring the property owner to hire private security to keep it safe. Has that even been proposed?

    “Urging” them to maintain the property is clearly not sufficient. There must be enforcement action.

    The failure of the property owners to keep the area from becoming blighted is clear and convincing evidence they have no regard for their legal obligations.

    You wrote: “What we are left with is our ability to urge the City’s enforcement agencies to be vigilant and aggressive in their response to complaints, something that we have done and continue to do.”

    My response: How about “demand,” not “urge.” This has now risen to a level where action must be taken. Enough of the soft touch.

    Thank you for recommending we contact Mr. Sanchez. I understand PAR reached out to Sanchez over a month ago and has only been advised the issue has been submitted to the Planning Dept. Enforcement Division.

    The Alexandria is a spectacular building, and must be preserved to the fullest extent possible. Tearing it down is a terrible idea. There are ways it can be renovated and revitalized and preserved. How about asking for input from the community. So far this has been a one-way discussion. There are lots of creative, talented, skilled people in the Richmond who could probably give you lots of ideas for good ways to use this space.

    I am saddened and disappointed that the situation has deteriorated so badly. The Alexandria was once a landmark and a destination for people in the Richmond District and beyond. It has now become a symbol of the lack of regard City Hall has for our neighborhood.

  14. LOL “the Supervisor cannot dictate what a private developer can do with their property”

  15. @ Al Vin Yeah!! And yet he feels he CAN dictate if fast food restaurants can or can’t give out toys….

  16. @Nick – well, now that you have enumerated everything that Supervisor Mar cannot do, is there anything useful he can accomplish in an foreseeable future? Other than diligently trying to address this ongoing problem. Yoda comes to mind with all this hard trying.

  17. It’s not that Mr. Mar cannot do, but will not do. There have been countless instances were the Supervisors have interfered with private developers when they want to. But in this case, there is no political benefit in doing so. There is no way Mr Mar would want his name associated with the demolition of the theater.

    It was a nice building in its day. It has past its end of life and should be torn down to enable residential units. The theater industry is just not sustainable in the Richmond. And we already have Balboa and others to choose from.

  18. Alexandria is pulling the neighborhood down; that stretch of the street looks like a slum, it is an invitation to crime and graffiti and deterrent to decent businesses moving next door. It used to be a magnificent building, true, but at this point I do not think preserving heritage is a top priority. Myself, I just want it gone. I would think with a little push the zoning could be changed to allow a residential building on that spot; but even with the zoning as could not 1 floor be for business use – is that not possible? A condo complex would bring much more life to the area and address more real problems than a landmark. And it would be faster and cheaper to build, than do a restoration of this dilapidated health hazard. If the owners are violating the laws, can the building be taken away from them?

  19. @Nick You mean the same way mar has ‘diligently’ been handling the influx of ‘massage parlors?’

    The same way he ‘diligently’ handled the ADA lawsuits against businesses in the neighborhood?

    Then there was the whole thing about noise complaints regarding the Jack in the Box at 10th and Geary.

    But I’m sure it’s all ‘complicated’ in the same vein as how he supported the tax break for Twitter and yet goes on and on about how he doesn’t want big businesses to take over SF.

  20. So last night I went to a showing of Akira at Oakland’s New Parkway theater, a theather that doubles as a cafe/restaurant with tables for dining in the theater and servers delivering quality food, a selection of beers and wine, and concessions. There was a line out the door for a 10:30pm showing of an anime film from the 80s. The showing was completely sold out, the people at the end of the line just had to go home. People are still willing to come out to the theaters for a unique theater experience. The Richmond needs some kind of attraction, something that will draw in people from other neighborhoods and attract businesses to the corridor. And as this theater is our most iconic neighborhood landmark it should be used for something truly special. If handled properly, a restaurant/theater combo could put our neighborhood on the map. It could pull in business from people who enjoy going to the Kabuki, or who are waiting with baited breath for the New Mission to open. When (if) the BRT is completed it won’t just be a convenient way for people from the Richmond to get downtown, it will finally make the Richmond accessible to people all over the city, but as the neighborhood stands, there’s not much reason for anyone to bother.

  21. The Alexandria has the potential to be the Castro Theater of the Richmond, something that people would travel from out of town to visit

  22. @Ryan – It could have been… but it is not. It is a disaster, and the resources needed to get it to a Castro Theater state have not materialised in 10 years, and I for one do not want to live with this for another 10. As to attractions of Richmond District – I doubt it. Castro isa hip neighborhood. People do not go to Castro for the theater, they go to spend time in the famous neighborhood which has a LOT of unique stuff to offer. Outer Richmond, with its Grocery Outlet ambiance, is not in the same league, and no movie theater is not going to change it, imo.

  23. @Nick, I think, after writing your initial post, you owe us a reply to the posts others have made following yours. For one: “Per the conditions of their entitlement, they [building owners] have a duty to maintain the property in a clean and secure condition.” A duty? You mean a legal requirement? You mentioned several things they, as landlords, should be doing. Well, obviously they are not. Have not. Probably will not. So, as another poster asked, can the building be taken away from them due to abandonment? Or because it has become a magnet for crime and illegal activities? If the city can force homeowners to clean up their front / back yards–and even the inside of their home–because it is a health hazard or a fire hazard or attracts “unsavory” elements, why in the name of all that is neighborly cannot Eric Mar and the other sups enforce a similar action on this blight? Reading your post, Nick, I am reminded of the parents of little kids who keep warning, “If you don’t stop…., I’m going to ….” And the kid just ignores the threat because it never comes to pass. Nick, the landlord is the little kid, and Mr Mar/BOS are the ineffectual parent who wag a finger and then go about their days.

    To Mr. Mar: No more feeble excuses. You are not serving your constituents. After 10 years of this ridiculous situation, you must do something.

  24. @Sue I hope it is all condos, and I hope they are well-built, not some cardboard crap.

  25. @Nick, Can you reply to the comments below yours? Why hasn’t there been punishment for this obvious instance of blight? Why is it so hard to get ahold of anyone in your office? Why is the city so impotently addressing graffiti, and why are we paying for programs that are not well-organized enough to respond to simple citizen complaints?

  26. Over a year ago, the Planning Dept. granted the owner a “Conditional Use” Permit, which I believe gives him several years to develop the property. In return, the owner must keep the property safe and clean. Failure to do so can result in revision or termination of the permit, fines, or action by the City Attorney, District Attorney or the Chief of Police. As Nick wrote, the Planning Dept. has been advised of the owner’s failure to live up to his end of the agreement. I understand Mr. Sanchez of the Planning Dept. has forwarded the complaint to the enforcement division of the Dept. Hopefully, that will result in some kind of corrective action. What’s frustrating is that it’s taking much longer than it should for action to be taken. Hopefully we’ve finally gotten City Hall’s attention, and things will start to happen.

  27. In response to what the follow up is and why there has not been further enforcement measures. As I indicated in my first post, there have been two reported incidents in the past 2 years. After the first the owners were served with a notice of violation that was cured by the owners by putting up fencing and a security system (albeit one that appears not to be functional). After this second incident we again contacted the Department and they are investigating and hopefully going to issue citations. More importantly, again as mentioned in my initial post, there is a process underway that is looking at whether they have complied with the conditions of their entitlement. The consequences for them are severe as they could lose a substantial amount of value on their property. At this point the most effective way for everyone to deal with this situation is to provide the Planning Department concrete information regarding the lack of upkeep on the site.

    Beyond this, we have been talking to the ownership group and others about the sale of the site and are hopeful that a more responsive ownership group can be found soon.

  28. @Nick: I’m probably beating a dead horse at this point, but what the hey. You say there have been two reported incidents in two years. I don’t understand. If someone throws a brick through a plate glass door, that’s an incident. If someone robs someone of a cell phone, that’s an incident. This property has undergone a steady slide into blight for 10 years. Does it only count if someone reports “an incident” of graffiti? Which leads me to my second comment. You wrote: “At this point the most effective way for everyone to deal with this situation is to provide the Planning Department concrete information regarding the lack of upkeep on the site.” No, the most effective way to deal with the situation is for the city to finally take swift action against the landlord. Fine the hell out of him. Then give him 30 days to clean up the mess, and a warning that if he fails to keep the place clean at all times, he will lose his property. Then, when he sues the city (as he surely will), the city can give him as much attention and respect as he has given the city and the people of The Richmond during the past 10 years. Oh, and if the Planning Department can’t figure out how to see for themselves what this property looks like, they can always look at photos posted on this blog. Or, perhaps Eric Mar can take a few photos on his cell phone.

  29. @Renee – thank you. I could not agree more. The response given by Mr. Mar’s office is a demonstrates total lack of respect for the concerns of his constituency; and in that it perfectly matches the lack of respect and concern demonstrated by the owners of Alexandria. “Concrete information regarding the lack of upkeep on the site” – is this a joke? Have Mr. Mar and Nick seen the place?

  30. rabble rabble whine whine. the man is telling you how it works and what you can do and you aren’t listening nor do you acknowledge his effort. the owners have rights, but there are some things you can do: go take photos, go make a diary, go document the problems! whatever, and then send those good vibes in. But no. that might involve work. so that’s out.

    so yeah, lets just ironically keep on about the lack of respect somewhere or whatever and keep making baseless accusations in an uncivil manner. Let me try, ERIC MAR, SHUT DOWN THIS WEBZONE bEcause the comments are BLIGHTED. IF you don’t you, it must be becaz u are corrupt and your office is laundrying illegal shrimp boy MoNeys via the RichmondSFblog store.

    *looking around expectantly*

  31. @Nick maybe you and Eric Marr should do more research into the City’s laws (isn’t he a failed, non-practicing lawyer by the way?) because I’m sure there’s something in there about if the property owner fails to remove graffiti or blight, the City will do it for them and put a lien on the property.

    Well, if you have the guns, why aren’t you using it.

    Eric & Staff, you can’t seem to do real work but you have no problems making businesses kowtow to your stupid Happy Meals rule and the future soda tax (none actually going toward the kids but to the overbloated non-profits and Parks & Rec).

    These sorry excuses are pathetic.

  32. If the Alexandria is ever to become anything the owners (or whoever they sell the property to) have to think big. The unique opportunity of having a massive undeveloped parking lot in the Richmond must be taken advantage of. Build a 10 story modern condo tower that will rival the ones going up on Rincon Hill and mission bay. The theater MUST serve as entertainment use. A comedy club is an idea. Or how about a late night talk show that could air on local cable networks here and throughout the bay area. This site can reinvent how the Richmond is viewed. Palm trees on a custom colored sidewalk with benches. Hell maybe even a parklet. It takes someone with vision to develop this site. Something that has not happened in over a decade.

  33. It’s impossible to believe there have only been two reported incidents about the problems at the Alexandria in the last ten years. That makes no sense. My friends and I have called 311 plenty of times. Don’t those count as “reported incidents?” Also, I was cautioned by “someone who knows” not to bother the Planning Dept. b’cse dealing with lots of complaints about the property will just slow down the process. So which is it? Pester Planning or leave them alone? The formal complaint to Planning was six weeks ago.

    Nick, could your office please do the following: 1) Get a tally from 311 of the number of calls they’ve had about this property in the past ten years, and; 2) Look into the status of the most recent complaint to Planning and get back to the us asap about what action(s) will be taken. This is not rocket science, and warrants swift action. Thanks for your help.

  34. @ Jean @ Nick I ditto this request. We need to keep the pressure on these owners. The Planning Department, in my experience is a black hole. Nothing I have sent to them has ever elicited a response.

  35. Complete agree with all the ideas and comments made by Renee, Jean, Bennett, ALY and Rob S!

    So after 10 YEARS why can’t the City just use eminent domain and take the property away? Surely ample legal notices were submitted to the owners over the years.

    Also, do we really need to restore or preserve the Alexandria theater? The Outer Richmond is not known as an art or film destination. Does anyone recall the Coronet previously on Geary near Arguello? The Coronet was widely considered one of the premier theaters in the Bay Area and even filmmaker George Lucas praised the Cornet over all others. And yet despite the glorious interiors, advanced digital technology, rich film and community history, the Coronet was closed and demolished. The Alexandria was never considered a great theater by any stretch and it paled in comparison to the Coronet. So why should it be preserved and spared demolition?

    One more thing of particular importance for everyone advocating restoring the Alexandria, how much cash flow would it need to even stay afloat? Many theaters throughout the City were closed primarily due to insufficient business and the advancements in technology during the 90s. So how would restoring a previously insolvent theater remotely help our community?

    The Alexandria needs to be demolished and rebuilt to serve the greater needs of the businesses and the people in the community. What the community truly needs is more housing to address the overwhelming demand. And I do not mean more housing dedicated to affordable residents. Bear in mind builders already are being forced to dedicate 30,000 units on current and future constructions throughout the City.

    @ The Planning Department, Nick and anyone else who has the ability to advance the demolition and new construction please, finally take responsibility. TEN YEARS with no improvements is truly unacceptable and the Alexandria is a very visible FAILURE that needs to be resolved.

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